Monday, May 24, 2010

Ghosts? Really?

Is the ghost story dead?

I watch "Ghost Hunters", in awe of the adventurers creeping around some deserted asylum, calling out to spirits and chasing after sounds that would send me flying in the opposite direction, and I ask myself, is there something more here? Something that is a reflection of our sensibilities regarding the supernatural?

If you think back to some rather creepy ghost stories, tales that might have been written thirty, twenty, maybe even ten years ago, you have to ask yourself if it is possible that advances in science and rampant pragmatism have killed this subgenre? Maybe. But to be honest, if I thought something supernatural was going on in my house, I wouldn't be walking around with a tape recorder, trying to engage whatever it was in discussion for the sake of an EVP.

So if you were going to write a short story about a ghost, and wanted it to be frightening, what would you do? Giving the ghost a history and a personality is always chancy. The more you know about the unknown, the less terrifying it is. Do you set the story in an old house or location, or try setting it in a new apartment or office building?

Traditionally, ghosts don't actually hurt anyone. Malign spirits are instead demonically influenced. The danger of the haunting spirit is the fear factor and little else. In film, it's perhaps easier to pull off a fright in this area. Consider some of the more successful films you've seen in the last decade:"Ring", "The Others", "The Sixth Sense", "Paranormal Activity". Each of these films pushes the genre, shifting our expectations and delivering a novel experience, but an experience which doesn't do well with a second viewing.

Me? I've never written a ghost story. I've written about returning gods from other dimensions, vampires, zombies, serial killers of all shapes and sizes, magic gone wrong, and malign entities, but never about a returning presences that goes "boo!"

Maybe I'll try if I have some time this summer.

Maybe I'll try ghost hunting.

However, if I actually do try my hand at this and hear or see something, I make no promises. I'm probably running and doing my best not to look too much like Curly from the Three Stooges.

13 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I've not really watched Ghost hunters, but I think they're not scared because they know they're making it up.I think there is still meat on the genre. It just needs a revivial, like zombies have had.

Jemi Fraser said...

Ghost stories have a universal appeal - think it's the chill/shiver factor. The unknown should be just a little bit spooky :)

chiccoreal said...

Dear Stephen: Really enjoy a good ghost story of all kinds. Watching The Three Stooges wisen me up into a pilot light of a screen play. Encouraging the muses of the night I remain; a scream vixen. Ahhhhhhh...Ohhhhh!

SQT said...

I loved ghost stories as a kid. I had a book of ghost-themed short stories I used to read over and over. My daughter is going through that phase right now.

I weird when it comes to real-life ghost stories though. I believe in ghosts but I think most stories are hoaxes. I'd be tempted to write something kind of cliche about ghost hunters who are mostly frauds who run into the real deal. I'm just not sure how I'd spin it to make it original. Something to think about I guess.

SQT said...

Er, "I weird" should read "I'm weird." Though maybe the original version is correct...

Jon said...

Okay,Sternberg, we're in. Ghost hunting this summer. Midnight on the Solstice at the Hathaway house? Dusk at the museum? A Oeija board? (But that would have to be at your house.)
I'll bring the black candles, you bring the digital infrared Tricorder.

Christine Purcell said...

I keep seeing this bad a$$ blue pickup parked at Home Depot with a light bar across the cab and the words "Scientific Paranormal Investigations" printed across the windows. I vote we hide in the bed and go on an adventure!

Bernita said...

If ghost stories are dead, then as a writer I'm dead in the water...

Stewart Sternberg said...

Charles, I like Ghost Hunters I can't help it. I do. Jason and Grant are like friends to me now. I'd invite them over.

Jemi, they do have universal appeal. Maybe we need to re-examine how we handle horror and the shades of intensity.

Chicoreal, a scream vixen? sigh.

SQT you see the dilemma ..how do you keep it fresh and alive? So to speak

Jon..lemme know when

Barbara Martin said...

Ghost stories are never dead. A writer just needs to come up with a different twist.

As to hunting them make certain you carry extra batteries with you, because ghosts tend to drain the one in the recorder. And they make the area where they walk COLD. You'll know as there's no mistake in a warm room when the temperature gauge reads 70F and your breath is visible in the cold air.

I've only seen a couple of ghosts in my life, and really hope not to see any more.

If you're going ghost hunting, take Rick with you.

Akasha Savage. said...

I still love a good, old-fashioned, traditional ghost story. Joe King (Stephen King's son) has written one with a more modern take: The Ghost in the Heart-Shaped Box, it's about a ghost that is bought off the internet. I thought it okay, but give me the tales of M R James any time.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Barbara, what's always intrigued me in ghost stories is the idea that they haunt but are usually unable to come out of nothingness and physically kick butt. That being said, the ghosts on SUPERNATURAL were rather physical and deadly

Akasha, I hate when ghosts are played for "cool" or "cute". I feel there some great older authors, like M.R. James, who knew how to throw a chill using subtlety

Steve Buchheit said...

I admit that I also like the Ghost Hunters show (the international version not so much). But take heart, Stewart, there's other "ghost hunting" shows that are great examples of young kids freaking themselves out. SO the scary ghost stories should still work.